Masood Azhar and China veto: What Modi can do now (Column: Political Calculus)

Last Updated: Sun, Mar 17, 2019 09:00 hrs

Masood Azhar is a dangerous name. A global terrorist of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) under the UN Resolution 1267.

The proposal to list Azhar was initiated by the US and the UK among other members of the UN Security Council. But China has once again disturbed the whole process, making it the fourth time in the last few years that China put a technical hold on the listing of Masood Azhar. An interesting facet of this is that China has never openly supported him. They cannot and to date, China has never said that Azhar is not a terrorist. So, what exactly has China done? India sent evidence to all UNSC members, and even the US was convinced. But China reiterated that there was not enough evidence - a technical snag.

Last Thursday, at midnight, the UNSC meeting took place and before that on Wednesday I got an opportunity to speak to Union Minister Sushma Swaraj at an event at Teen Murti in Delhi. I found that she was not expecting China's support in that meeting.

But, in spite of the expected Chinese veto, I think that this time India has been able to isolate Pakistan globally and not just Pakistan, but China has also been alienated due to the international pressure in the Masood Azhar issue. Earlier, India would propose the action and others would support. This time, India was not even a co-sponsor. This time the proposal was moved by other members of the P5-club and dozens of other countries, including the African nations and countries in South Asia like Bangladesh.

I think that this is a brilliant strategic move of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This time, the issue was not just that of India versus Pakistan. By not getting involved in the co-sponsorship, India avoided the bilateral-ism and as a result, now, it is China, who is giving the veto against the international community on a terror issue. Secondly, after the Pulwama attack on February 20, within a week, that is on February 27, the UNSC moved Article 1267 on Masson, which is also faster than earlier occasion. When the Uri incident took place, Jaish never took credit officially. But this time they did and the reason as to why they did so is a matter for separate investigation and interpretation.

Jaish was failing to recruit Kashmiri Muslims, so they are also losing their ground in Kashmir. Be that as it may, this claim actually put the Pakistan establishment in more trouble. After all Pakistani ministers had said that Masood Azhar was in Pakistan and under medical treatment - so what other evidence do you need?

But there are few key lessons here for India. The role of China is now one that we need to reassess. The first question is why exactly did China do this? China has done it not just for their friendship with Pakistan but also, I think, to check India's growing diplomatic proactive assertiveness. China is doing this to balance the scales of power diplomacy and give a message to India.

At the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) summit in 2018, it agreed to the grey listing of Pakistan in return for being offered a vice presidency of the intergovernmental body. India didn't give any equivalent counter offer to make in exchange for Masood Azhar's listing. In future, it maybe Tibet, Taiwan or Xinjang or on the economic trade front. We have to give some sense of relief to the Chinese authorities, since China also has its own growing problem. North Korea is trying to move out from the shadows of Beijing and Australia and has begun the open criticism of China in its domestic area. So this might be the right time for Prime Minister Modi to be more proactive on the follow-up pressure on the Chinese government.

Right now, Modi is following three strategies:

Firstly, through other countries, he is putting pressure on China on the Masood Azhar issue. Already, the French have announced that they will attach the various properties of JEM and Azhar.

Secondly, knowing fully well that Imran Khan is not in a position to do much and that he is entirely under the control of the Army, India wants to raise the issue of deportation of Masood repeatedly. Already, Arun Jaitley and Swaraj have said that if Imran Khan is, indeed, against terror then why is he not ready to hand over Azhar.

Thirdly, A strong legal argument can be made that targeting an individual who is an active member of an organisation that has engaged in a violent conflict with one's own state is an act of self defence - and is permissible under Article 51 of the UN charter. This is especially plausible if it can be demonstrated that the individual needed to be targeted because the state that he is residing under is unwilling or unable to prevent that person from carrying out attacks on one's state. The legal argument for taking such a semi-cover action would be stronger against Masood, if it could be shown that the targeted individual was planning to conduct more attacks. After Pulwama, Jaish did say so and as a result, India can plea this to the UNSC.

So while targeting Masood Azhar is an option that India is exploring, in trying to define him as a legitimate target, it is obviously very challenging. Collateral damage, or the death of civilians or if an intended target is not there or there is some other problem - then this could be more counterproductive. Then, not just China, but the support from countries would also dissipate due to the misadventure.

The US succeeded in targeting Osama bin Laden. Israel has done it on several occasions in Gaza. But after the Mumbai attacks in India, the-then NSA M.K. Narayanan was not in favour of this India-US style cover and localised strike. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval wants to carry out such an operation, but this government needs specific information and the right timing to act, along with global support. This is easy to say for a journalist like me, but not that easy to carry out on the ground.

For now, the diplomatic escalation against Masood Azhar is on.

(The writer is a senior journalist)

--IANS

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